Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. Exodus 20:8-11NKJV
Today’s article comes from Questions 115 and 116 of the Larger Catechism, which ask, “Which is the fourth commandment?” and “What is required in the fourth commandment?” The verses quoted above contain the fourth commandment. Its requirements are described by the Catechism as follows: “The fourth commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called The Lord’s day.” Today we will consider the propriety and change of the Sabbath day.
If the third commandment is the one that people are least concerned about breaking, the fourth commandment is a close second. Not the rest part, mind you. If our government ever moved to make Sunday a normal work day instead of a day off for its employees, I’m sure we would hear a groundswell of protest over taking away our “day of rest.” If there is anything sacrosanct about the American work week, it is that we do not work on the weekends. We believe in keeping not merely one, but if at all possible, two days wholly for ourselves. Here, we should see the significance of a weekly setting aside of specific days for certain ends: such a practice says what is important to us. Thus, whenever weekends in general and Sundays in particular become special set aside days for me to do what I want to do, what that practice says is that what is important to me, is me.
Man needs a day of rest. He needs a day each week to be refreshed both spiritually and physically. Accordingly, Jesus said that “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27). Commonsense tells us what experience has confirmed: that whenever man has attempted to work continually without a day of rest the amount and quality of his work suffers. Thus, because of the way we have been made, we need a weekly rest to function at our best. But our natures need something else besides a physical cessation from work. Since man has been created in the image of God, so that he would be like God and serve God, man needs a day each week to rest in God. Humans will suffer spiritually if they do not rest weekly in God. It was this fact more than any other that convinced me that, in the New Testament era, there continues to be a Sabbath rest for the people of God (Heb. 4:9). Just as the Old Testament saints needed a day each week to keep their spirits refreshed in God: to keep their faith from weakening, to keep growing in grace; so also we, having the same nature and the same salvation: by grace through faith; spiritually need a weekly drawing near and resting in the Lord our God.
Accordingly, the New Testament uniformly presents the unwavering practice of believers gathering together weekly to worship the Triune God. Interestingly, whenever these passages name the day of their gathering, it is always the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). Thus, as critics point out, although there is no explicit command to change the day of worship and rest from the seventh day to the first day, by example we find the early church uniformly adhering to this practice. Likewise, outside the Scriptures, the earliest extant evidence confirms that the Church came together to worship on the first day of the week. We know theologically that God’s Sabbath rest in the goodness of His creation was confirmed so to speak, when Jesus rose again on the first day of the week. The resurrection proved our salvation was accomplished; that Christ’s sacrifice was accepted and that He was victorious. Therefore, the New Testament Church, being led by the Spirit of God, immediately began to assemble together on the first day of the week (John 20:19, 26), which they called “the Lord’s Day,” (Rev. 1:10). May our good God confirm you in this practice for the strengthening of your faith and the refreshing of your soul!